Content issues on tap at wireless confab

February 8, 2008

By Debra Kaufman

Mobile 

Visitors to the GSM Association’s Mobile World Congress next week in Barcelona, Spain, will be forgiven for mistaking the confab for a Cannes-style film festival.

Robert Redford and Isabella Rossellini are expected to make appearances, but they’re not in Spain to tout their latest theatrical releases. The actors are but bit players in a bigger drama playing out at the conference: how the content industry plans to take advantage of the worldwide boom in mobile delivery.

Juniper Research recently predicted that the total global mobile content market, valued at $20 billion in 2007, will reach $64 billion by 2012, based on music, games and video. Mobile TV, worth $1.4 billion in 2007, is expected to bring in about $12 billion by 2012.

But numbers barely begin to tell the story. Because mobile content varies widely from country to country, The Hollywood Reporter has taken these snapshots of developments in regions around the world.

Although the Hollywood community has embraced mobile content, the U.S. still is struggling to find its way: Most cell phones are 2G (3G phones account for a mere 10%-15% of the market), carriers have a tight lock on content distribution (often referred to as “the walled garden”) and consumer interest in mobile TV content remains low.

Still, “we’re bullish on mobile entertainment,” Juniper Research wireless analyst Julie Ask says. “We expect to see phones with more multimedia features to watch video. But you just can’t put technology out there. You need to generate demand for services.”

The FCC’s upcoming auction of the 700 MHz spectrum will change the landscape, but nobody knows how. “One thing’s for sure,” Ask says. “What we’ll see is more non-cell phone, non-laptop devices with cellular connectivity for video and audio services.”

Google has said that it will join the list of spectrum bidders, and it already has shaken things up by introducing Android, its Open Handset Alliance industry coalition platform. Whereas today the consumer is forced to purchase a handset from the carrier, the Open Handset Alliance is pushing for carriers to allow consumers to buy a handset independently. Verizon and AT&T have both said they will open their networks.

With open networks, off-portal content becomes more of a possibility.
“Mobile is already a Wild West in terms of content,” says James Cannella, vp entertainment development at marketing firm Impact Mobile. “By opening up the barrier and letting the content be king, it’ll open up content distribution companies and foster new players to come in the game. There is no reason why Coca-Cola can’t be a content distributor — or at least on the same playing field as Apple or Microsoft or Verizon.”

Much is afoot in mobile content in the U.S.: Blockbuster is at work on new technologies to improve delivery of digital content to mobile devices, and networks as diverse as Discovery Channel and USA Network are making original content for mobile. AT&T will launch its live mobile TV service this year.

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